By Becky Aspell
It was two weeks ago that I was finishing the last of a 17-hour drive to Alabama with my sister, Emily. This day would mark the beginning of our first climbing trip together. To put this into perspective, I should mention that we have been climbing together off and on for a decade. Our intentions with this trip were to hit three of the big bouldering areas in the south; Horse Pens 40 – Alabama, Stone Fort (Little Rock City) – Tennessee, and Rocktown – Georgia.
Horse Pens 40 sits on top of Chandler Mountain, the third highest mountain in the state of Alabama, and was our first stop of the trip. The property is home to an overwhelming abundance of sandstone boulders with a fortress-like appearance. The rock features here are unique and jaw-dropping to anyone who is unfamiliar.
The Shultz family have been the owners of the property for the past decade. The family live on the property and have opened their home for recreational use. They offer day use and camping for a small fee. Camping consists of either car camping or the option of renting one of a dozen small cabins on the property. We camped out in a tent and paid $15 per person / per night. The campsites can be found conveniently located next to the bouldering field. There are three bathrooms and two which have showers. Most of the campsites have water and electricity. There is also a small but well stocked convenient store on the property and a restaurant.
We started off slow on our fist day and caffeine was very much a necessity after a 17 hours drive. We were cold getting up, but the weather quickly warmed up to a comfortable, sunny day in the mid 50’s. The temperature this day ended up being the average temperature of our trip with a couple of warmer days in the 60’s. Climbing on day one could be summed up as follows, walk up to a boulder, flip through the guide book until you find something that even slightly resembles what’s in front of you, flip more pages until you find the boulder you are looking for, then repeat. After spending way too much time on that step, we committed ourselves to a location and warmed up. By the end of the day, we had a pretty solid idea of what we wanted to work on day two
On the following day we were ready. We started the morning at a cluster of boulders known as the Front Area. I had been shut down on a pesky v2 called Copa Cabana the previous day, and I wanted to finish it up. I didn’t know it that morning but being shut down at HP40 would become a theme, well for me at least. The Front Area was great for warming up. It has an abundance of easy to moderate problems and handful of classics. We were joined by our camping neighbors, Adam and Rebbaz for the first part of the morning. Adam has spent time at HP40 in the past and had great information that he was kind enough to share with us. We later found out that Adam is fortunate to be able to work remotely and thus he gets to spend a lot of time traveling and pursuing his passions. Emily quickly moved on to working a v3 called Sometimes that she quickly finished and moved on to a v4 called The Beach.
After breaking for lunch, we moved on to the Spirit Area, which was home to a v2 and v3 that Adam suggested to us. We both had hopes of banging through these problems quickly but ended up getting shut down. Horse Pens 40 is different from what I am used to climbing. Everything felt stiff, really stiff. Note to self: if you are heading to HP40 train on slopers! The experience was very humbling, and although I experienced frustration at times, and got shut down a lot, I loved being there. We finished up day two at the millipede boulder, and Emily made a quick send of the classic Bum Boy v3.
I can’t speak for my sister, but my lack of skin became apparent on day three. We spent a few more hours at HP40 that day so I could try to finish my projects. I had no luck, but Emily scrambled up one last boulder problem on our way out. That afternoon, we drove north to Chattanooga with the intentions of finding a place to stay and to plan out our next couple days of climbing.
We ended up staying at a Days Inn on the outskirts of Chattanooga. It was fairly inexpensive as far as hotels. It was clean and comfortable. A second option we had briefly taken into consideration was The Crash Pad. It’s a local hostel with the option of shared and private rooms. I’ve only seen photos online, but I was instantly won over by the warm and inviting atmosphere captured in those pictures. The pricing at The Crash Pad ranges from $30 a night to $100 a night based on the option of shared or private accommodations. In the future, I will be picking The Crash Pad. I think we ended up at the Days Inn because we were exhausted and my sister had stayed there previously. Our hotel was $64 a night and included breakfast. We stayed there for the last two evenings of our trip.
Day four and five of our trip took us to Stone Fort also known as Little Rock City. Stone Fort is located just outside of Chatanooga on the property of Montlake Golf Club in a town called Soddy Daisy. I loved Stone Fort. Mountain Project claims that it has the best bouldering in the south, and I understand why. The area has a high concentration of boulders, and the climbing is high quality. There is a great mix of crimpy and slopey classics. I found the bouldering at Stone Fort to be more forgiving than HP40. This opinion seemed to be shared by other climbers as well.
We covered a ton of ground at Stone Fort in the two days that we spent there. Day one took us to Your Sisters Boulder, which has a mix of easy to moderate climbs. We then cruised over to Super Mario Boulder where Emily cruised up the classic V4 Super Mario. If you are visiting Stone Fort, I highly suggest you add this problem to your tick list. She also worked the v6 extension of Super Mario, a variation that should be on your list. We spent the rest of day one projecting various boulder problems in different locations that I am unable to recall the names of. The end of the day took us to a hidden v7 called Face in the Crowd. Emily made moves, and I suspect she will get it next time. If you get a chance, you should google this problem. There are a ton of videos floating around the internet, and it has some great movement.
Day 2 took us to a wedge-shaped boulder where we warmed up on a v0 called V0 and a v1 called Mizzen Mast. This boulder was a great warm up, and it shouldn’t be missed. It has a very flat face and slopey edges with an occasional jug hold that you use to traverse your way up the wedge. From there we headed over to the classics Sternum v4 and Rib Cage v3. We finished the last day of our trip projecting and finished on a v4 called Black Carpet. At the end of the day, we left Stone Fort and drove back to Massachusetts. We decided to save Rocktown for a later trip. If we had a few more days available, we would have been able to make it there. We did not have enough time to afford rest days and because of that, we were beat on day 5. For those interested, Rocktown is located in LaFayette Georgia about 40 minutes south of Chattanooga. There is primitive camping available down the road from the climbing area if you are interested.
Here is some additional info that you might find useful if you are planning a trip of your own.
The peak season for bouldering in the south is November to January. If you end up with lousy weather, there are a couple of gyms in the Chattanooga area. High Point Climbing and Fitness have a two locations in the area. We checked out their downtown location while we were out to dinner one night. They have an outside wall, lead climbing, top rope climbing, bouldering, weight room, yoga room, etc. It was a pretty impressive facility.
We spent about $500 on our trip. We drove a Prius, which I can only assume cut down gas costs. We did some grocery shopping when we got to Alabama, but we didn’t plan too well and ended up making less than ideal choices which cost us. We could have cut back on lodging by staying at the hostel or camping at Rock Town.
I loved climbing in the south and I can’t wait to make it back there again. I am looking forward to visiting Rocktown because I have heard nothing short of amazing things. I am also looking forward to being stuck in the car with my sister for another 17 hours. Lastly, I think this might be a great trip for our adult climbing team in the fall.